This page focuses on the adverse effects of work on health, even though the positive effects of appropriate work on health and well-being are no less important.
Every year about 10 million of the 150 million workers in the European Community are affected by incidents, "accidents" or diseases at work. Direct compensation costs are estimated at 20 billion ECU per year.
In the UK data on medically reported incidence of occupational disease and work-related illhealth is collected from occupational physicians (OPRA), General Practitioners (THOR-GP) and other doctors participating in the THOR network.
According to UK official statistics, every year about 2,000 lives are lost through occupational disease or injury, about 20,000 major industrial injuries occur (e.g. skull fracture, loss of sight) and there are about 200,000 injuries resulting in a work disability of 3 days or more. These figures are gross underestimates of the true incidence of occupational ill-health. Thus for example the "true" figure of occupational cancer deaths alone in the U.K. may be to the order of 5,000 per year. While only about 300 workers receive disablement benefit for industrial dermatitis every year, there may be between 15,000 and 60,000 new cases of this condition every year.
Extrapolation from the UK Labour Force Survey suggest that in a year at least one million people believed they had ill health caused by work and a further million believed they had ill health made worse by work. Explore this further.
Hazard is the potential to cause harm. Risk is
a measure of the likelihoodof a specified harmful effect in specified circumstances.
It is important to distinguish between hazard and risk.
Hazards in the workplace include the following:-
Various aspects of work organisation may be stressors.
|The responsibilities of the employer mainly stem from legislation
such as the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (1974) but other more recent
UK and European Union legislation is very important in managing Healthand
Safety at work. These include the Management of Health and Safety atWork
Regulations, Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations,Manual
Handling Operations Regulations, Personal Protective Equipment atWork Regulations,
and various others.
The image on the left shows a worker, protected from a chemical exposure
contained within a reaction vessel, provided with local exhaust ventilationat
the orifice of the vessel, designed so as to suck away any gases orvapours
as they emanate from the vessel. In addition, he is wearing personal protective
equipment consisting of an airhood supplied by piped breathing air, as
well as rubber gloves, safety shoes and other skin protection.In his case
there are therefore several lines of defence to protect him from exposure.
Assessment Of Health Risks Created By Work
Prevention or Control of Risks
Monitoring and Evaluation
Consultation, Information, Imstruction & TrainingSadly, not all information or instruction is useful and appropriate. Information alone is not a substitute for reasonable risk reduction strategies. Consider the image below, for example.
Would you consider that advising workers not to inhale blue asbestos is a reasonable way of protecting their health, and preventing ill-health?
Incidentally - this sign was attached to the boilerhouse of a National Health Service hospital in Britain, and the photo was taken in the early1980's. With attitudes such as those illustrated by the photo, it is no surprise that hundreds of workers are sadly still dying every year from mesothelioma caused by occupational exposure to asbestos several years previously, and the number is set to continue rising, before it eventually falls.
Record Keeping, and ReportingThese are requirements of several regulations, and are essential meansof assessing the adequacy of risk reduction measures and of identifying previously unrecognised hazards.
history is often very important
in identifying relevant exposures and linking them
to ill-health. The concept of "cumulative exposure" i.e. a quantitative
measure of the intensity of exposure and the duration of exposure is important,
since generally itis the main determinant of risk. Health may be harmed
by occupational exposures in many different ways, and practically any organ
system can be affected.
Some examples follow - (starting with the lungs and skin, the organs of first contact for most chemical occupational exposures):-
Genitourinary and endocrine
In the Great Britain the Employment Medical Advisory Service of the Health and Safety Executive employs medical doctors who should be available to advise workers or their general practitioners.
Some National Health Service Trusts also offer this facility to patients referred by their general practitioners:
A separate page provides more information about the control of risks to health from work.